The Annapolis Mideast peace summit could be an example of the management phenomenon known as the Abilene paradox. Creator Jerry Harvey says the phenomenon occurs when groups “take actions in contradiction to what they really want to do and therefore defeat the very purposes they are trying to achieve.”
Harvey illustrates the paradox by describing a family that drove an unairconditioned 1958 Buick “across a godforsaken desert in a furnace-like temperature through a cloud-like dust storm to eat unpalatable food at a hole-in-the-wall cafeteria in Abilene,” when no one really wanted to go.
It’s evident that few really want to be at Annapolis. Neither do they expect it will advance their objectives. The summit’s purpose is unclear and the outcomes could be more anger, frustration, blame and failure unless the parties take an approach that differs from previous peace efforts.
Sean McCormack, a state department spokesman, said the summit will be a "launching point for negotiations leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state and the realization of Israeli-Palestinian peace". In a dream world, perhaps, but that goal contradicts what most Arabs desire: the destruction of Israel.
The most pro-summit statements come from Egypt and Jordan, states that fear Islamic radical movements. “Egypt is keen on providing to the Palestinian cause in any way possible,” said foreign minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit who will attend the summit. Jordanian King Abdullah II promised Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to help forge a “unified Arab stand” behind the Palestinians ahead of the Annapolis meeting.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is encouraged because Annapolis provides the “first time there is a Palestinian government that publicly states: We are not against Israel, we’re committed to fighting terror and we want peace.” Even though the Palestinians are split, Olmert believes doing something is better than doing nothing.
There are also naysayers. Israeli Knesset member Ran Cohen argues that Annapolis “…is not a diplomatic step, let alone a historic step. I don’t see anyone here, in the Knesset, that really believes that a peace treaty [can be] reached at Annapolis.” Arye Eldad, another Knesset member, wrote President Bush asking him to postpone the talks until a date when “the Israeli people and the political climate will be more receptive of peace talks.”
Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yuval Diskin told the Jewish cabinet that Palestinian President Abbas is “weak” and would find it difficult to implement any agreement. Diskin warned that unilateral moves by Israel “endanger the security of Israel’s citizens and soldiers.”
Some Palestinians lack confidence in Abbas. Abu Mujahed, spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees, an alliance of armed groups in Hamas controlled Gaza, warned that any concessions made by Abbas at Annapolis would trigger a third intifada (rebellion). Deposed Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said Palestinians would express their opposition to the Annapolis conference “in more than one field and on many levels.”
Most Arab journalists firmly oppose the summit. An exception is journalist Rami Khouri who encourages Arab leaders to participate not because Annapolis is “a serious peacemaking endeavor, but it is a spectacular stage that the Arabs can use to challenge Israel.”
The Bush administration’s goal is the creation of two states, Israel and Palestine, living at peace. Attaining that goal requires the parties to overcome some conflicting national red lines.
The Palestinians bring to the negotiations three key objectives. They will not recognize Israel as a Jewish state. They will insist on sovereignty over east Jerusalem and they will demand a return to the pre-1967 borders.
Israel, however, insists the Palestinians recognize her statehood, thus closing the door to the demand for “return” of millions of Palestinian refugees and the dream of a “greater Palestine” in Israel’s stead. Israel also proclaims a historical connection to the Temple Mount, holy for both Jews and Muslims.
The Palestinians demand sovereignty over east Jerusalem, which they intend to be the capital of their future state. But the status of Jerusalem is critical for Israel as well. “Above all, Jerusalem is the base of our identity,” argues world-renowned Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky. Two-thirds of Israelis agree with him and oppose any division of Jerusalem.
Abbas further seeks Israel’s withdrawal from territories captured in the 1967 war. That area includes more than one hundred Jewish communities. Pulling back to the June 1967 borders would break Israel’s stability, leave these settlements inside the proposed Palestinian state and might require their dismantlement and the relocation of Jewish residents to within the new Israeli borders.
Although the issues are daunting, Olmert appears willing to stake his government’s survival on Annapolis. In fact, he has ignored the advice of his security officials and approved pre-summit concessions like the transfer of 25 Russian armored vehicles, 1,000 automatic rifles and millions of rounds of ammunition to the Palestinian Authority. In 1995, as part of the second Oslo Accords, Israel ill-advisedly allowed the Palestinians to acquire armored vehicles which six years later had to be destroyed during the second intifada.
Benjamin Netanyahu, head of the opposition Likud party, believes “Olmert is endangering the lives of Israeli civilians” by agreeing to the arms deal. He especially fears the transfer of automatic weapons to Hamas’ hands.
The Jewish government has also agreed to release 432 Palestinian prisoners prior to the Annapolis summit, alleging that the prisoners will “sign a statement promising to avoid engaging in terror activities in the future.”
Other concessions include allowing Gaza farmers to export flowers and strawberries to Europe via terminals in Israel, the stopping of settlement building, the lifting of roadblocks in the administered areas and allowing more Palestinians to work in Israel.
The stage is set for Annapolis to welcome representatives from countries that really don’t want to be there and who doubt they can attain their collective goal, the elimination of Israel. The US must set a course that does not end with anger, frustration, blame and failure.
A fresh start must be achieved and the parties must be willing to compromise. If Israel and Palestine are to live in peace, the US must provide direction and leadership. A mutually agreeable timetable must be set and measurable steps toward each objective must be established. Such steps include restoration of law and order in the administered areas and reconciliation of Fatah and Hamas into a single, non-terrorist democratic Palestinian authority. Israel will be required to make measurable steps as well and some will hurt.
The US’ objective at Annapolis may be to take our so-called peace partners on a ride to Abilene. We are asking Arab nations to cooperate in the creation of separate but equal Israeli and Palestinian states “in contradiction to what they really want” which for many Arabs has been to use the Palestinians to harass Israel and distract western anger away from Muslim totalitarian regimes.